We always look forward to a new issue of amirisu arriving, and the Issue 21 has been a delight to spend time with. It's a magazine with a beautiful aesthetic, filled with inspiration in texture and colour and projects from some of the amirisu team's favourite designers from Japan and abroad.
We wanted to talk to Meri more about the theme of the new issue, and what it means to create an ethical business with sustainability in mind. We were delighted that she was able to have a conversation with Ysolda where they were able to explore this important topic and she started by asking what made them choose the focus of sustainability for this issue.
Meri: I studied Environmental Economics and City Planning when I was in college, so sustainability has been my big interest all along. When we first started our business we didn’t know how we could integrate that concept and we were too focused on trying to get by, we didn’t have enough people to handle everything and were too busy. But this year since we couldn’t travel at all, I’ve had more time to reflect and think about what it is that we really want to do through our business. One of those things was how we can improve our sustainability. Not just environmentally, but culturally, in business and relationships.
Ysolda: Could you tell me just a little bit about the companies that you interviewed in this issue?
Meri: Nomadnoos is a company based in Switzerland that we met at H+H in Koeln. They’re the first company that caught our eye and they make incredibly beautiful yarn which is all handspun. The owners’ story is really special and we want to support what they’re doing, so we’ve been purchasing their yarn and also their crowdfunding programmes. The other company is Woolfolk. They make beautiful yarn and patterns and the more research I did about where their wool is coming from and about Ovis 21 the more I became interested in the idea of not just sustainability but regenerative line management. It’s really incredible, so I really wanted to let people know the possibility of this in the wool industry.
Ysolda: Yeah, it’s great to think that through knitting you can make such a big difference to both people and to the earth and I really relate to you about having time to reflect on this year and make changes. And with that time to reflect, what changes are you making? Not just with the magazine, but also with your two brick and mortar yarns shops?
Meri: We have those spaces to try to bring people together and since this year we couldn’t do that we decided to close one of our shops and wait for a year or two until we can reopen. One of the things that I realised this year is that you can knit alone, but knitting is really about bringing people together and it’s not just making craft - it’s a whole wonderful process. What we love about knitting is how we can meet people and learn more about the world as well as how people make things. We’re also trying not to buy yarn with any synthetic content. This can be difficult because many sock yarns have some nylon which we know is a small amount, but we believe it’s important. It’s been a challenge, but little by little we have been trying to encourage yarn companies to carry 100% wool sock yarn.
Ysolda: That’s great that you’re not just changing what you stock but you’re also trying to encourage the yarn companies to produce more natural fibre yarns. I know you produce the magazine and you run the business with your business partner Tokuko and with so many different decisions to make how do you handle working together? Do you each have a separate focus, or do you discuss everything?
Meri: We pretty much discuss everything but I’m not a really organised person. I’m better at making things, like magazines, designing small products or a shop and making stitch patterns. Tokuko keeps telling me that she doesn’t really like to organise and keep track of everything by herself, but she’s definitely better at it than me. So, she handles all the administrative things and accounting. These things are so important and now that we have more staff she doesn’t have to do everything by herself, but she still manages that aspect of the businesses. So, I think we’re really well balanced. I’m responsible for purchasing and the creative side of the business.
Ysolda: You’re about to release the 21st issue of amirisu, and I think we first met right before your first issue was published. I remember that when we talked back then you were very motivated to create a magazine that was something that no one else had done before in Japan, and that had an international outlook but also centred on Japanese knitting. How would you say your goals or your priorities for the magazine have changed over those 21 issues?
Meri: Back when we first met I was still working full time and the magazine was my life work, but not my day job. I wanted to create a magazine so that people could learn about Japanese knitting and also help Japanese knitters learn about the world. But now that we have a company and we print and sell a magazine, my primary focus is to make something worth printing and worth selling, and for people to feel that it is worth buying and keeping, so we put more effort into other creating other content than just patterns.
Ysolda: I really love all of the additional content, the interviews and the articles that are in amirisu, and it’s a periodical magazine as it comes out twice year. I don’t have a lot of time for knitting patterns, but I’ve kept all of the issues and find they’re still inspiring to read and to look through, so I think you’ve definitely achieved that.
Meri: Thank you so much. We create a lot of patterns ourselves and have found it’s helped us to become better knitters and better at writing patterns, as well as keeping up to date with trends. It’s also really helping us in our business, not just selling yarn but also making patterns. I think that make us really unique in the market.
Ysolda: I think it does. And for this issue you asked me to write a little bit about my design process for Ishbel, which was fun because we’ve been revisiting some older patterns ourselves. It was nice to be asked to reflect on that and it got me thinking about your creative process for the magazine. Could you tell me a bit more about that creative process for you?
Meri: The first thing we do with the magazine is create a mood board, to come up with the new look and inspiration that designers can use for their own design. For this issue I started with making a concept for the theme for the magazine, which is natural wool and where it comes from. Based on that I created a mood board for the designers so either one of those always is the start. And then I spend months thinking about what we actually do, and details like which shop to feature and who to interview. And separately Tokuko is in charge of making all the patterns. We are constantly working on and thinking about the next issue. When I travel, I get new ideas and meet new people who inspire me.
Ysolda: Where have you been going for inspiration right now when you can’t travel? Has that been hard? Or have you found alternative inspiration closer to home?
Meri: This past year we’ve been talking about what to do for the next issues. As travelling is difficult I think we will try to focus more on Japan and maybe revisit some of the traditional textile places. It should be really interesting.